'Isolation Kills': Families push for more visitation at nursing homes

A week-long movement is making its way through our area with a somber message: isolation kills.

"It really is contact starvation, and there have been residents that died from isolation and loneliness," Sheilah Smith said.

Smith is referring to residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, many, like her older brother, at a Greenwich, Connecticut, facility, who get just one outside or virtual visit with family members a week.

Saturday, March 13, will mark one year since nursing homes and long-term care facilities around the country were shut down and family members and loved ones were essentially shut out.

"We call it a 'banniversary' because family members have been banned for one year," Smith said.

Amy Badini, whose mother and adoptive grandmother are in a nursing home, says with vaccination rates rising and virus rates falling, it's time to loosen restrictions.

"You've seen images of people touching through the glass, that's not a visit," she said. "People in long-term care, they need touch, they need love, they need affection." 

Badini, who is helping lead the Connecticut arm of the Isolation Kills movement, said she has seen a real decline in her 98-year-old grandmother, who pre-pandemic was full of spark.

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"She has gotten slower, she has gotten sadder, and she has gotten less mobile," she said.

Badini and other family members say now that the residents have been vaccinated, the benefits of them seeing loved ones far outweigh the risks of severe illness or death from COVID-19.

As part of the national Isolation Kills movement, the families are calling on state governments to relax visitation restrictions. They also want the federal government to allow the designation of an essential caregiver, one person that would be allowed to visit a resident. That caregiver would wear PPE and undergo regular testing like a staff member.

"We know a whole lot more now and we see the unintended devastating consequences of keeping family out and keeping everyone isolated," Badini said.

The Connecticut group members will take their cause to Hartford on Friday for a rally at the Capitol.